What Should You Do If You’re a Victim of a Ransomware Attack?

Ransomware attack

Understanding, surviving, and minimizing your risk of cyber extortion

We all fear the blue screen of death signaling a fatal system error. Operating computers can be frustrating at the best of times, but we’re sunk when they don’t work at all.

The only thing more crippling is booting up your computer only to see a skull projected on the monitor pronouncing your files were hijacked for ransom. So in addition to not being able to access your files, you also have a huge financial problem to contend with.

Yes, you’re allowed to take a few minutes to panic if this happens to you.

What just happened?

The ransom warning on your screen informs you that your files can only be released using a decryption key. This key, which is stored on a secret server, will be automatically deleted if you don’t pay the ransom within the timeframe indicated.

The malware holding your files hostage may have found its way to you in an email attachment. Or, it could have been embedded in an image or file you clicked on. Or maybe you downloaded it with a document or program from a less than trustworthy source. However it got there, the code encrypted your data and has the ability to corrupt or destroy it if you don’t make timely payment.

Don’t think this can’t happen to you. Insurers report a 300% increase in ransomware attacks from 2015 to 2016, and they’re expected to double in 2017.

Should you pay?

One of your first questions will be, “What if I pay but my files aren’t released?”  That probably won’t happen.

History shows that hackers do restore the data once the ransom is paid. Why? Because hackers are smart enough realize that if they don’t release the data then future victims have no motivation to pay.

Economics will probably drive the answer to your question of whether to pay or not. The cost over time of employing other options to restore your data will likely be much more than the ransom the hijackers are demanding.

Cyber extortion is becoming increasingly sophisticated

Ransomware attacks began taking place in the 1980s. Hackers typically demanded payment by credit card and used that information to go on a spending sprees. A few years later, some hijackers began demanding payment in the form of iTunes gift cards. Today it’s not unusual for them to demand payment in bitcoin, a digital currency used independently of the banking system.

A fairly new extortion tactic is to demand the victim’s cache of email contacts. The criminals will only release the files if two or more of the contacts respond by paying the ransom.

Criminals sometimes go a step further by capturing confidential or personally compromising files, which they threaten to release publicly if payment isn’t made.

Thinking ahead and employing risk management techniques

Cyber criminals always seem to be one step ahead of the rest of us, so there’s no failsafe method of preventing a cyber attack. But there are steps you can take to minimize your risk.

  1. Consult with a computer security expert about specific risk management strategies you can employ.
  2. Update your operating system and all software on a regular basis.
  3. Take advantage of email spam filters and pop-up blockers for your Internet browser.
  4. Purchase and continually update anti-virus/malware software.
  5. Regularly back up data to an off-site system.
  6. Don’t open email from anyone you don’t recognize. Delete suspicious email immediately.

My last tip is that you buy cyber insurance. The prices for Cyber Risk insurance have dropped dramatically. We offer a Cyber Risk policy with a $1,000,000 limit for cyber extortion for as little as $750. It’s fast and easy to get a quote: it only takes a few minutes for you to provide the necessary information and we can provide a quote within an hour! Call us at 800-622-7370 and ask for our commercial department.

Source: Jerry Hargrove. “Do You Know Where Your Files Are?” Resources. Summer 2017.
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